Text Size   Decrease Font SizeIncrease Font Size
int_slide_copy

The NCAA Committee on Infractions Has Spoken: California State University, Northridge

Print
Written by Christian Dennie   
Tuesday, 03 January 2017 22:25

The NCAA Committee on Infractions (“Committee” or “Panel”) recently issued its findings and found that California State University, Northridge (“Cal State” or “Institution”) committed violations of NCAA legislation. This case involved the men's basketball program at Cal State. The men's basketball violations centered on academic misconduct and the provision of impermissible academic benefits by the former director of basketball operations. The former director of basketball operations also acted unethically by knowingly committing academic misconduct on behalf of ten (10) men's basketball student-athletes. The Institution also failed to investigate and monitor the activities of the former director of basketball operations.

The unethical conduct violations for academic misconduct were based on conclusions made by the Panel after the August 19, 2016, hearing. The academic misconduct violations were in addition to violations alleged by the NCAA enforcement staff. The Panel's additional conclusions of violations were made pursuant to its bylaw authority and obligation to independently assess the facts and circumstances of each case. The Panel took seriously its independent role as a membership body to assure that processes, conclusions of violations and penalties are fair to all institutions and individuals who appear before it.

The Panel concluded four (4) instances of academic misconduct and eight instances of impermissible academic benefits occurred involving ten (10) men's basketball student-athletes. Specifically, the former director of basketball operations committed multiple instances of academic misconduct when he completed coursework independently or in collaboration with four (4) men's basketball student-athletes and submitted the coursework on their behalf for fraudulent academic credit. Additionally, he provided impermissible academic benefits to eight men's basketball student-athletes when he completed online coursework on their behalf. The former director of basketball operations knowingly committed these violations, which was also unethical. Finally, the Institution agreed that it failed to monitor the former director of basketball operations' activities and failed to investigate concerns about his activities when they first surfaced. The Institution admitted to the seriousness of the violations in this case and took decisive corrective actions to prevent any future violations.

The Panel concluded the academic misconduct and impermissible academic benefits violations are Level I, while the failure to monitor is Level II. The Panel classified this case as Level I-Standard for the Institution. With respect to the former director of basketball operations, the Panel classified his violations as Level I-Aggravated.

The Committee concluded that Cal State committed the following violations:

Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 10.01.1, 10.1, 10.1-(b) (2013-14 and 2014-15)

During the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years, the former director of basketball operations, knowingly committed academic misconduct on behalf of four men's basketball student-athletes. The Institution and the NCAA enforcement staff substantially agreed to the facts and that violations of NCAA legislation occurred. The NCAA enforcement staff argued that the violations were Level I. The Institution argued the violations were Level II. The former director of basketball operations argued that he did not commit any NCAA violations but if the Panel did make a finding, that the violations were Level II. The Panel concluded the violations are Level I.

The former director of basketball operations committed unethical conduct on behalf of student-athletes 1, 2, 4 and 5 when he knowingly arranged for fraudulent academic credit in a total of two online courses. He committed academic misconduct on behalf of student-athlete 5 in ASTR 152 and ASTR 154 in the spring of 2014. He committed academic misconduct on behalf of student-athletes 1, 2 and 4 in ASTR 152 in the fall of 2014. The conduct violated Bylaw 10.

Bylaw 10 outlines ethical conduct. Bylaw 10.01.1 requires institutional staff members and student-athletes to act with honesty and sportsmanship at all times. Among other examples, Bylaw 10.1 defines the knowing arrangement of fraudulent academic credit as unethical conduct. That example is memorialized in Bylaw 10.1-(b).

The Institution and the NCAA enforcement staff agreed that the former director of basketball operations provided impermissible academic extra benefits to 10 men's basketball student-athletes. However, the former director of basketball operations violated the Institution's academic dishonesty policies when he completed significant portions of student-athletes 1, 2, 4 and 5's online coursework. The faculty in the respective courses lowered the grades the student-athletes received in those courses, and in all but one of those courses, the grades were lowered to an "F" or failing. The independent report commissioned by the Institution determined that it was more likely than not that the former director of basketball operations activities violated the Institution's academic dishonesty policies.

The Institution initially raised the issue of academic misconduct early during the hearing and indicated that it was prepared to address the issue if the Panel had questions. Consistent with COI Internal Operating Procedure 4-13, the parties were afforded the opportunity at the hearing to present their views on academic misconduct on the record and respond to the Panel's questions on the subject. The parties were expressly notified at the hearing that the Panel has the authority on its own initiative to make additional allegations or to amend allegations to conform with information presented to the panel at the hearing.

The Panel asked numerous questions of the parties about whether some or all of the conduct in this case constituted academic misconduct under Bylaw 10.1-(b). The NCAA enforcement staff stated it was bound by the April 2014 Academic and Membership Affairs (AMA) Interpretation and education column that defines academic misconduct as occurring in one of two instances: (1) when an institutional staff member arranges for fraudulent academic credit or (2) when there has been an erroneous declaration of eligibility for a student-athlete who subsequently competed as a result of any academic misconduct.

Regarding the former example, the NCAA enforcement staff stated that the "membership has been really clear that [academic misconduct] is an incredibly high bar." The NCAA enforcement staff working with the Institution stated that based on the metadata in the case, "we didn't reach that level." When questioned by a Panel member for a standard, the NCAA enforcement staff stated that "it is a majority of the course work." However, such a standard is not mentioned in either the April 2014 Interpretation or educational column. The NCAA enforcement staff then noted that 37.3 percent of all online portal actions in the student-athletes' accounts happened on the former director of basketball operations' desktop computer. Moreover, the NCAA enforcement staff believed that only 16 percent of the Moodle actions were assignments or quizzes or actions that resulted in potential points for the student-athletes. The NCAA enforcement staff mentioned that the latter example is not present in this case because none of the 10 student-athletes in this case were declared erroneously eligible.

The Institution argued that the main significance of whether the conduct was alleged under Bylaw 10 or Bylaw 16 had to do with level. The institution believed that academic extra benefits alleged under Bylaw 16 warranted a Level II violation whereas academic misconduct under Bylaw 10 would warrant a Level I classification. However, while the Institution self-reported violations and admitted "a[t] a minimum" to "academic extra benefits", the Institution also conceded that the COI "has a lot of discretion" and could consider the alleged conduct as academic misconduct under NCAA legislation. When asked by a Panel member whether academic misconduct occurred in the case and whether it was a "close call," both the Institution's president and the enforcement staff agreed it "was not a close call." In support of that position, the Institution's president looked at the metadata and student-athletes' performances and how some of their grades dropped precipitously after the former director of basketball operations was removed from his position. The NCAA enforcement staff agreed that the metadata coupled with the student-athletes' inability in interviews to recall even the most basic and simple details of the courses made it "not a close call." To the Institution's president, the terms "academic misconduct," "academic dishonesty," and "cheating" were indistinguishable and were in the "same bucket."

Pursuant to the COI's authority under Bylaw 19.7.7.4 and based on information developed at the hearing, the Panel concluded that the former director of basketball operations committed academic fraud in violation of NCAA legislation. See Indiana University (2008) (COI concluding independently an institutional failure to monitor after information presented at the hearing); and Marshall University (2001) (COI concluding independently that combined with information originally submitted to it by the institution together with information provided at the hearing, a finding of lack of institutional control was warranted in academic fraud case).

When the former director of basketball operations completed online coursework for four men's basketball student-athletes his conduct was unethical and contrary to the high standard of conduct required of institutional staff members. The former director of basketball operations did not operate with the honesty and integrity expected of staff members working at NCAA member institutions. His actions were contradictory to the minimum standards of conduct contemplated by Bylaws 10 and 10.01.1. The former director of basketball operations had no credible explanation for how significant portions of student-athletes' coursework was completed on his desktop. He admitted that he had access and did access student-athletes' online portal accounts, in violation of the institution's policy. The men's basketball coaches did not ever see student-athletes sitting at his desktop completing work even though his cubicle was in plain view of the coaches' offices. The student-athletes' grades changed dramatically for the worse after he was suspended by the institution. He also admitted that his desktop was used to complete student-athletes' coursework, but maintained that he did not complete their coursework. The Panel did not find his denials persuasive or credible. Additionally, student-athlete 2 subsequently competed while ineligible before being withheld by the Institution. Based on the information presented in the case, the former director of basketball operations violated Bylaw 10.1-(b) when he arranged for student-athletes 1, 2, 4 and 5 to receive fraudulent academic credit.

While each case is unique to its facts and circumstances, the Committee has recently concluded that institutional staff members who complete online coursework for prospective or current student-athletes commit Level I violations. Georgia Southern University (2016) (concluding that Level I impermissible academic assistance violations occurred when a former assistant director of student-athlete services wrote 10 extra credit papers for two football student-athletes); University of Southern Mississippi (2016) (concluding that Level I academic misconduct violations occurred when members of the men's basketball staff completed over sixty-credit hours of online coursework for seven prospective student-athletes); Southern Methodist University (2016) (concluding that a Level I academic misconduct violation occurred when a basketball administrative assistant obtained an incoming student-athlete's username and password and completed all of his assignments and exams for an online course); Syracuse University (2015) (concluding that a Level I violation occurred when the former director of basketball operations and former basketball receptionist completed an extra credit paper for a student-athlete seeking a grade change over one year after he had completed the course); and Weber State University (2014) (concluding that Level I violations occurred when a math instructor obtained five student-athletes' usernames and passwords and completed online quizzes, tests and exams, resulting in fraudulent academic credit).

Institutional staff should never involve themselves in completing, in whole or in part, the academic coursework of student-athletes. Pursuant to Bylaw 19.1.1 the Panel concluded that the violation is Level I because the former director of basketball operations' conduct was unacceptable and his conduct seriously undermined and threatened the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model. The violation also provided student-athletes with a substantial or extensive impermissible benefit.

Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Bylaws 10.01.1, 10.1, 10.1-(c), 16.11.2.1 (2013-14 and 2014-15)

The former director of basketball operations provided impermissible academic extra benefits to student-athletes 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 in several other online courses during the fall of 2013 and spring and fall of 2014. Further, the former director of basketball operations knew or should have known that when he completed online coursework for student-athletes 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, he was providing impermissible academic extra benefits to them. The Institution found that the student-athletes violated the student code of conduct and issued admonishment letters and periods of conduct probation. The Institution and NCAA enforcement staff agreed that the former director of basketball operations' conduct was unethical. The former director of basketball operations disagreed that any violations occurred. The Panel concluded that Level I violations occurred.

The former director of basketball operations provided impermissible academic extra benefits to eight men's basketball student-athletes. He also committed unethical conduct when he knowingly provided student-athletes 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 an extra benefit by completing online coursework for them in violation of NCAA legislation. The former director of basketball operations violated Bylaws 10 and 16.

Bylaws 10.01.1 and 10.1 require institutional staff members and student-athletes to act with honesty and sportsmanship and ethical conduct. Among other examples, Bylaw 10.1-(c) identifies knowingly providing an enrolled student-athlete an extra benefit as unethical conduct. Bylaw 16.11.2.1 generally prohibits institutional staff members from providing student-athletes with any extra benefit. The term "extra benefit" refers to any special arrangement by an institutional employee to provide the student-athlete with a benefit not expressly authorized by NCAA legislation.

The former director of basketball operations provided impermissible academic extra benefits to student-athletes 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years. The Institution and the enforcement staff substantially agreed with these violations. The former director of basketball operations denied that he provided student-athletes with extra benefits. However, he was provided rules education by the Institution and should have known that providing such benefits to student-athletes was impermissible. While his misconduct did not result in any grade changes to student-athletes' courses, the eight student-athletes did receive letters of admonishment or periods of conduct probation under the student code of conduct. Additionally, student-athletes 2, 7, 9, and 10 subsequently competed while ineligible. The former director of basketball operations violated Bylaw 16.11.2.1 when he provided student-athletes 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 with impermissible academic extra benefits.

Similarly, the former director of basketball operations knew or should have known that completing coursework for student-athletes was impermissible under NCAA rules. The Institution provided rules education to him and yet he determined on his own volition to access student-athletes' online portal accounts and complete significant portions of eight student-athletes' coursework over two academic years. The Institution determined the eight student-athletes violated its student code of conduct and three of those student-athletes subsequently competed while ineligible. The Panel agreed with the Institution's president that the former director of basketball operations' conduct in this case was "intolerable." Institutional staff should never complete coursework of any kind for a student-athlete. The former director of basketball operations denied ever completing any coursework but the Panel did not find his denials credible in light of the substantial information corroborating his involvement. When the former director of basketball operations completed coursework on behalf of student-athletes 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 and providing them an impermissible extra benefit, he violated Bylaws 10.01.1, 10.1, and 10.1-(c).

While each case is unique, the Committee has consistently concluded that current and former institutional staff members must not knowingly provide student-athletes with extra benefits. See University of California, Los Angeles (2016) (concluding that the associate head football coach was unethical when he knowingly provided two prospective student-athletes with $2,400 in extra benefits); and Lamar University (2016) (concluding that a head men's golf coach was unethical when he committed a Level I violation by knowingly providing $15,500 in impermissible extra benefits to three student-athletes); Syracuse University (2015) (concluding that a support services mentor and a support services tutor provided impermissible academic extra benefits to three men's basketball student-athletes).

Ethical conduct is a bedrock standard and principle on which the NCAA Collegiate Model and infractions process are based. All NCAA member institutions and staff must undertake these responsibilities with the utmost commitment. Pursuant to Bylaw 19.1.1 the former director of basketball operations failed to fulfill his obligations and seriously undermined and threatened the NCAA Collegiate Model. The Panel concluded his violations are Level I.

Violations of NCAA Division I Manual Constitution 2.8.1 (2013-14 and 2014-15)

The Institution failed to monitor the former director of basketball operations' activities surrounding 10 student-athletes' online coursework. The Institution substantially agreed to the facts and that a Level II violation occurred. The Panel agreed that the violation is Level II.

During the 2013-14 academic year through October 2014, the Institution failed to monitor the former director of basketball operations allowing his academic fraud and provision of impermissible academic extra benefits to go undetected. The Institution had reason to pay attention to the former director of basketball operations' activities and failed to adequately investigate those concerns and identify potential violations. The Institution violated NCAA Constitution 2.8.1.

The Institution knew of issues and concerns with the former director of basketball operations as early as 2010 but failed to take adequate steps to thoroughly investigate the concerns or monitor his actions. The Institution subsequently learned that the former director of basketball operations had assisted student-athletes in drafting emails to faculty and administrators. To the Institution's credit, once the violations in this case were discovered, the president and director of athletics acted swiftly and decisively to suspend the then director of basketball operations and commissioned an internal investigation and an independent outside investigation into the matter. The Institution is to be commended for the substantial and widespread corrective actions that it undertook after the investigations concluded. However, the Institution admitted that the relationship between its academic affairs and athletics departments was "dysfunctional." That dysfunction and lack of communication permitted the former director of basketball operations to continue his misconduct without detection until the fall of 2014. When the Institution failed to adequately investigate concerns about the former director of basketball operations' suspicious activities, it violated NCAA Constitution 2.8.1.

The Committee has previously decided cases where it has concluded academic misconduct violations and failure to monitor by the institution. See, e.g., Weber State University (2014) (concluding a math instructor committed academic misconduct and failure to monitor by the institution); and University of Southern Mississippi (2013) (concluding academic misconduct by coaches and failure to monitor by the institution).

The Institution's failure resulted in severe academic violations that cut to the core of the NCAA Collegiate model. Bylaw 19.1.2(b) presumes and the Panel concluded that the violation is a Level II violation because it was a significant breach of conduct that may compromise the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model.

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in accordance with NCAA Bylaws 19.9.3 and 19.9.4

Aggravating Factors for the Institution

(1) Persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violations or related wrongful conduct; and

(2) One or more violations caused significant ineligibility or other substantial harm to a student-athlete.

Aggravating Factors for the Former Director of Basketball Operations

(1) Multiple Level I violations by the involved individual;

(2) Unethical conduct;

(3) Violations were premeditated, deliberate or committed after substantial planning;

(4) Persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violations or related wrongful conduct;

(5) One or more violations caused significant ineligibility in or other substantial harm to a student-athlete or prospective student-athlete; and

(6) Intentional, willful conduct.

Mitigating Factors for the Institution

(1) Affirmative steps to expedite final resolution of the matter;

(2) An established history of self-reporting Level III or secondary violations12; and

(3) Exemplary cooperation.

Mitigating Factors for the Former Director of Basketball Operations

None.

As a result of the foregoing, the Committee penalized Cal State as follows:

1. Public reprimand and censure.

2. Three (3) years of probation from December 7, 2016, through December 6, 2019, or completion of the final penalty, whichever is later

3. The Institution self-imposed a one-year postseason ban for the men's basketball program following the 2015-16 academic year.

4. The Institution shall pay a financial penalty of $5000 plus one percent of the men's basketball budget.

5. The Institution reduced the total number of athletically related financial aid awards in men's basketball by a total of two awards: one during the 2016-17 academic year; and one during the 2017-18 academic year.

6. The former director of basketball operations will be informed in writing by the NCAA that should he be employed or affiliated in an athletically related position at another NCAA member institution during a five-year period, from December 7, 2016, through December 6, 2021, within 30 days of his hiring, that employing institution shall ask for a date to appear before a hearing panel to show cause why restrictions on all athletically related activity should not apply.

7. The former director of basketball operations actions committed academic fraud and provided impermissible academic benefits. His actions caused four (4) enrolled men's basketball student-athletes to compete for the Institution while ineligible in the 2014-15 season (student-athletes 2, 7, 9 and 10). Therefore, pursuant to Bylaws 19.9.7-(g) and 31.2.2.3, the Institution shall vacate all regular season and postseason participation and wins in which ineligible student-athletes competed from the time they became ineligible through the time they were reinstated as eligible for competition. The individual records of the ineligible student-athletes shall also be vacated. However, the individual finishes and any awards for all eligible student-athletes will be retained.

8. The Institution placed the former director or basketball operations on administrative leave in October 2014 and directed him to cease contact with student-athletes and staff. In May 2015, the Institution accepted his resignation.

9. The Institution withheld seven men's basketball student-athletes implicated in possible violations from competition for the entire 2014-15 season.

10. The Institution lost approximately $17,000.00 due to Big West Conference withholding of postseason distribution.

For any questions, feel free to contact Christian Dennie at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

Recent News

Ten BGS Lawyers Listed as Top Attorneys by 360 West Magazine

In 360 West Magazine's annual list of "Top Attorneys", ten (10) Barlow, Garsek & Simon attorneys were recognized by their peers as being among the best ...

[Read More]

Three BGS Lawyers Named in The Best Lawyers in America 2017

Elliott Garsek (Banking and Finance Law, Closely Held Companies and Family Businesses Law, and Litigation - Banking and Finance),  Zach Garsek (Real Estate), and Ben Barlow ...

[Read More]
 

Contact Us

Barlow Garsek & Simon, LLP
920 Foch Street
Fort Worth, Texas 76107
Phone: 817.731.4500
Fax: 817.731.6200

Southlake Location
1207 S. White Chapel Blvd., Ste. 150B
Southlake, TX 76092

©2015 Barlow Garsek & Simon, LLP
Disclaimer
Law Firm Web Design by The Modern Firm